Review: “This Is America” by Childish Gambino


Screenshot of single cover by Jack Roberts

Shortly after hosting Saturday Night Live on May 5, Donald Glover released a YouTube music video called “This Is America” under his stage name Childish Gambino. The video is a commentary on the current state of American society regarding gun violence, racial inequality, and the distractions from addressing the actual problems.

The video opens with a continuous shot of an abandoned warehouse as the song begins with a happy chorus of people singing “yeah.” The camera continues to move past a black man playing the guitar on a chair, eventually getting to Glover, who is facing away from the camera and shirtless. Glover slowly turns around and begins to over-dramatically dance on the path the camera took at the beginning. Glover pauses next to the old man, whose head is now covered by a bag, and pulls out a gun. Glover pulls the trigger and shoots the man in the back of the head, and the man falls on the floor. Glover looks at the camera and says the namesake of the song, “This is America.”

The video is jam-packed with metaphors and hidden meanings; here are just a few.

  1. Jim Crow laws

Glover has never been one to shy away from a controversial video. In his video for the song “Bonfire,” he plays the victim of a lynching, which is obviously a reference to the Jim Crow laws in the South. Glover, in “This Is America,” calls to mind another image from Jim Crow as he shoots the man.

  1. Charleston church shooting

At about the minute and a half mark, the camera pans over a chorus of 10 black singers in robes singing and dancing. Glover dances into the shot and all of a sudden he grabs a large capacity rifle that is tossed to him and he guns down the entire chorus. This is eerily similar to the Charleston church shooting from the summer of 2015 when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, murdered 9 people with a handgun. The camera follows Glover as he continues walking away, but a small group of people armed with blunt objects and cops rush towards the scene, alluding to the riots caused by the act.

  1. The treatment of guns

A prominent feature in the video is the use of guns by Glover. What adds an interesting layer to this, however, is the treatment of the guns after he uses them. After Glover shoots both the man with a hood and the chorus, a man comes out with a red cloth in his outstretched hands. The man resembles a pageboy who would hold a cushion out to hold the king’s crown.

What makes the video intriguing is the dozens of hidden metaphors that take several viewings to understand, and the level of popularity it has reached. In less than two weeks, it has amassed over 130 million views. Rarely do such politically motivated videos get so much coverage by both the media and viewers. Glover, however, does not want to give his meaning on the video, saying on several talk shows such as Jimmy Kimmel that he leaves it up to the iviewer to decide what everything means.

I highly recommend watching the video on YouTube, because you can literally dissect each frame and find a hidden meaning that holds a mirror to our society.